28 June 2007 Edition

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Irish Government's secret rights charter opt out

Reform Treaty is EU constitution


Two days of intense negotiations involving 27 leaders of EU states and what did we get? That depends on who you talk to. In Ireland we were “very happy with the outcome”. Tony Blair thought Britain had achieved a “leadership position” in Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel who was hosting the negotiations said as the deal was agreed that, “We are very, very satisfied,” but that “the possibilities of compromise were stretched to the limit”.
What Merkel meant was that for the first time in the 50 years since the Treaty of Rome, that 26 of the 27 states were prepared to sign up to a new agreement leaving a country out, in this case it was Poland. It seems that the era of EU consensus agreement and the right to national veto is over.
However it is still unclear what exactly the Irish Government agreed to last weekend or whether there will be a referendum in the 26 Counties, with some EU commentators even suggesting that this may be the only referendum on the EU’s Reform Treaty agreed last weekend.
It is all a question of words and what do you think they mean. Three years ago the then 25 EU member states were considering a new EU constitution. Now we have a “Reform Treaty” which doesn’t have the flags, an anthem, or mottos in the constitution but does have a lot of the other elements of the original 2004 treaty.

National veto eroded
For example the EU won’t have a “minister” for foreign affairs, they will now have a “high representative”. The rejected constitution talked of EU “law”, the new treaty has “regulations”, “directives” and “decisions”.
The new treaty solidifies the use of a double majority voting system in 50 new areas as the right of national veto is eroded further. This means that some EU decisions need only the agreement of 55% of member states representing 65% of the EU population to become law, oops sorry “regulations”!
Most importantly the provisions of the 2004 constitution that proposed enshrining the idea of an EU wide free market economy in the actual constitution text are retained. There is no other national or international treaty that is so explicit about defining the nature of economic activity the society it constitutes should have.
Maybe this is not as important as the question of how many treaties there actually are. Tony Blair for example was very happy with his “four red lines”, protecting British opt-outs on human and social rights while maintaining an independent foreign policy as well as tax and benefit arrangements.
This week it turns out that the Irish and Polish governments also signed up to the same opt outs, so nowhere in Ireland will the EU rights charter come into force. The charter proposed recognising the right to join unions, to go on strike, with a prohibition on slavery, freedom of thought, the right to education, to work, to equality and other issues like the rights of children. So we have the free market treaty without the charter of rights shock absorbers.
From an Irish viewpoint the other outstanding question is what is the position of the Green Party on the new Treaty, The Greens will consult their members on the party’s stance, but former Cork TD Dan Boyle said that the “party might leave it to voters to make up their own minds”.
For now the process moves to Lisbon in July with a proposed Inter Governmental Conference to agree the final treaty text. 

EU Reform Treaty Key points

  • “At the end of the day, 90% of what was in the constitution is still there” — Bertie Ahern
  • Full time unelected EU President
  • Only 18 Commissioners after 2014
  • The EU now has a “legal personality” and the EU president may sign international treaties on behalf of the 27 states
  • Irish opt out from Charter of Fundamental Rights

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